Anti-Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu
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Anti-Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu

Author: Thamanna Abdul Latheef calender  24 May 2018

Anti-Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu

The Madras high court has stayed the construction of Sterlite's new copper smelter plant at the Thoothukudi unit in the state of Tamil Nadu. Though it's been around 100 days, the Anti-Sterlite protest in Tamil Nadu has got a different shade as the protest turned violent. hence, it strangled lives and left many injured within no time and the jury is still out on what triggered the violence.

Sterlite Copper unit has been in operation in Thoothudki, also known as Tuticorin, since its inception in 1997 and has been tenacious by controversies throughout. But at the heart of the fresh protest at the unit, is a brownfield expansion of the plant, entailing a doubling of the capacity of the smelter to 8,00,000 tonnes per year.

Why was Sterlite protest for?

The agitators have been protesting against the proposed expansion of copper smelter of Sterlite copper, a unit of the Vedanta group, over pollution concerns. Protesters allege that pollution from the copper plant, including issues relating to disposal of copper waste and effluents from the operational unit, demanding its permanent closure. Tamil Nadu government has constituted a one-man commission to look into the matter.

Recently, fresh petitions were filed seeking directions to take suitable action against the company for alleged failure to take safety measures due to which there were pollution and industrial accidents at the plant. The political parties like DMK in Tamil Nadu slammed the police for using automatic weapons to disperse the crowd. Villagers in the area have been protesting against noxious gas leaks and bad effluent management for over two decades over environmental dangers.

What happened to Vedanta's Sterlite unit in 2013?

In March 2013, people living in and around the plant complained of eye irritation and suffocation, following which the facility was inspected by the District Environmental Engineer. Later, the Collector issued a press release stating that the emissions of Sulphur dioxide were found within overall limits and the public had not been affected by it at large.

But a gas leak in March 2013 from the plant led to the then chief minister, J Jayalalithaa, ordering its closure. Though the company moved the National Green Tribunal against the state government, the Tribunal then overturned the government order following which the state moved the Supreme Court, which set aside the High Court order but directed the company to deposit Rs 100 crore within three months with the Collector.

The activists, as well as the protesters, allege that plant poses a grave danger to the residents of the area. This may cause rise in throat and eye cancer cases in the area. While environmental activists contend that a plant like Sterlite will require a lot of surface water and resources, which may gradually lead to depletion of drinking water in the area and also shortage for agricultural supply. Although responding to the allegations against the Sterlite copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi, the company said that the plant has received necessary permits and has not violated any norms.

On the other hand, various political parties such as DMK and actor Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Neethi Mayyam came into the frame along with the protesters. They all took part in the anti-Sterlite protests with an agenda of not letting the expansion of Sterlite Copper happen and to shut down the current unit in the state if possible.

Development and the advancements which come with it is essential for the people. But if it starts to harm the citizen and taking away their lives, such issues must be addressed. Though the industrial advancements come with its own pros and cons, alternative ways to tackle pollution and other menaces should be the great matter of concern and focus.

By: Thamanna Abdul Latheef C

thamanna@molitics.in

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